Grant Tinker Biography (1926-)

Full name, Grant Almerin Tinker; born January 11, 1926, in Stamford, CT; sonof a lumber supplier; married Ruth Byerly (marriage ended, 1962); married Mary Tyler Moore (an actress, producer, and director), 1963 (divorced, 1981); children: (first marriage) three sons, one daughter. Addresses: OFFICE--GTG Entertainment, 9336 Washington Boulevard, Culver City, CA 90232.

Grant Tinker has come to represent "a kind of litmus test of commercial television's potential," according to Ben Brown (American Film, September, 1983).Tinker, a broadcasting executive who has founded and run two production companies, is widely credited with restoring the fortunes of the National Broadcasting Company (NBC), which he headed as chairman from 1981 until 1986. In an October 25, 1987 New York Times Magazine profile, Diane K. Shah observed thatthe self-effacing Tinker led NBC "away from the graveyard into gravy." She further reported: "During his chairmanship, NBC's profits soared--from $48 million in 1981 to more than $400 million in 1986. It owned America's living rooms during prime time, hooking the country on 'The Cosby Show,' 'Hill Street Blues' and 'Miami Vice'; keeping it hooked with Johnny Carson and David Letterman, hanging onto it through the early morning hours with the 'Today' show." Tinker effected the turnaround by going against the conventions of network programming--he kept faith in low-popularity but high-quality shows, renewing them even when their ratings suggested cancellation. "Audiences will appreciategood shows if we give them time," he affirmed in the March 9, 1986 New YorkTimes. Validating this belief, reporter Sandra Salmans noted that in 1985, for instance, NBC not only "beat both CBS and ABC in total households and number of viewers," but it also garnered twenty-five Emmy Awards in the process--more than twice the total of either competing network. This accomplishment bore out Brown's conclusion that "if anyone can make television better,... Tinker's the man."

Tinker has made broadcasting his life's work. The son of a lumber supplier, he grew up in Stamford, Connecticut, determined not to follow in his father'sbusiness. Instead he attended Dartmouth College and at age twenty-three became a management trainee at NBC. As he rose in his profeesion through positionsin studio production at Universal Studios, Twentieth Century-Fox, and two advertising agencies, he gained a reputation not as a creative person, but as "an executive with a deep appreciation for creative people," Kay Gardella reported in a July 12, 1981 New York Daily News article. Tinker returned to NBC as a vice-president of television programming in 1961; throughout the 1960s, however, he was better known as the husband of actress Mary Tyler Moore than as a rising network executive. But in 1970, as founder with Moore and Arthur Price of MTM Enterprises, a television production company, Tinker began to gain recognition for his own achievements.

"What distinguished MTM from the big Hollywood studios where most televisionseries are made was not only that it produced much of the best programming ofthe last 15 years--from 'The Mary Tyler Moore Show' to 'St. Elsewhere'--butthe way it did so: by establishing an atmosphere in which writers and producers thrived," Salmans assessed. Steven Bochco, who created Hill Street Blues while at MTM, elaborated on that atmosphere in the New York Times: "Grant Tinker's real unique gift is in creating an environment where people feel safe, nurtured, protected to do what they do best." During Tinker's tenure at the helm of MTM and later at NBC, such shows as Lou Grant, Hill Street Blues, Cheers, and Family Ties were either created or produced or both. Tinker also became an outspoken critic of network programming that showed little imagination and less respect for the viewer. He told People (May 14, 1984): "If the networks have so little respect for the audience that we grind out pap and junk, weliterally devalue our viewers, and we can't expect them to keep coming backto our programs."

Brown reported that Tinker was called "Mr. Quality Television" when he took over the lagging NBC network in 1981. As chairman he made stability his watchword and, although he stood behind shows that struggled at first to find theiraudiences--Hill Street Blues and Cheers among them, he also allowed the production of standard action-adventure series that were aimed at boosting ratings points. Ironically, The A-Team, one such action show, was NBC's first hit under Tinker. He told the January 7, 1983 Christian Science Monitor: "I can nolonger live by the same rules that I did at MTM Enterprises, where we didn'toffer to produce anything which we didn't feel had some real quality. And weconcentrated on only a few shows. I dropped that way of living 20 minutes after I {came to NBC}, because this has to be a more flexible schedule. I don'thave any problems with programming for mass audiences, whatever the show is,even a lowest-common-denominator show. I just don't want to have 'em every night of the week." By 1985 NBC had moved from the least popular to the most popular commercial network on the strength of Tinker's support of Cheers, TheCosby Show, Miami Vice, and The Golden Girls. But Tinker also stood by showslike Remington Steele, Knight Rider, and The A-Team, which were also multi-season hits.

Tinker had signed on with NBC for five years and in the summer of 1986 he resigned. With numerous offers to consider, he decided to return to production;within a few months he formed a partnership with the Virginia-based Gannett Company. Under a multi-million dollar agreement for GTG (Grant Tinker-Gannett)Enterprises to create and produce shows for CBS, Tinker has his own studio in Los Angeles, the right to re-sell any programs rejected by CBS, and fifty per cent of the profits the new venture earns, in addition to his salary. Thecompany plans to prepare between three and five shows--comedy and drama--forthe fall, 1988 television season, and it has more than fifteen shows under preparation. Shah suggested, however, that Tinker might encounter more difficulties than he did when MTM Enterprises got under way in 1970. "Now, in a sense, Tinker's success has come back to haunt him," she wrote. "The big names hehelped create have risen beyond his budget and loom there as his competition.But Tinker has always managed to throw out the nets and haul in the next big-fish-to-be." Tinker told the New York Times Magazine that he feels additional pressure beyond the mere stresses of the budget because he has enjoyed suchsuccess in the preceding seventeen years. "I have a great sense of obligation and determination to succeed," he said of his new company. "Probably more than I've ever had. The others {MTM and NBC} would have been failures more easy to accept." Now in his early sixties and divorced from Moore, Tinker expresses no interest in retiring or even lessening his workload. "I don't mean I'dnever like to sit in the backyard and watch the apples fall," he told the New York Times. "But I don't think I'll spend a lot of time doing that."

Birth Details
January 11, 1926
Stamford, Connecticut, United States

Famous Works

Recent Updates

April 7, 2005: Tinker was named to receive a Peabody Award for his distinguished career. Source: E! Online,, April 8, 2005.

User Contributions:

Comment about this article, ask questions, or add new information about this topic: